At the beginning of summer, I had a very long list of books to read that I had been waiting to get into and I wasn’t quite sure where to start. If you’re working from home, maybe you can relate to struggling to find a work and life balance, but I’m new to this whole thing and reading is a way of re-centering myself. Call it self-care if you will.
The book I’m reviewing today was sent to me through a giveaway on Twitter and I was excited to get my hands on it for a few reasons: 1. Who doesn’t love a new book? And 2. This book’s main character has my name. So as a break from poetry and the regular fiction route, this one is a delve into a new fantasy world that I found quite interesting.
Not only was it interesting, but it was a genre of fantasy inspired by West African folklore that has been gaining traction in the literary world lately. It’s not that these stories didn’t already exist, it’s that they’re only now getting attention. So this month, I decided to turn my eyes to it and see what they hype was about… without further ado, here’s what I’ve got for you.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin— Roseanne A. Brown
Depending on the worldbuilding novel, some will throw you straight into the drama while others will weave small details cleverly around the characters in a way that most readers won’t notice until the author decides it’s time for them to do so. Each type has their strengths and if done right, any novel can turn strengths into just another way for their book to stand out.
I think this book falls somewhere in the middle of these categories, but more than anything, it tries to find a way to stand out in the type of story it tells.
As I mentioned earlier, this book falls into the category of fantasy inspired by West African folklore and it does so quite well, as it reflects tradition, music, and even beauty the way literature often lacks. As a book that many young black readers would appreciate seeing themselves represented in, this is a good one to take a look into.
As for the writing and the plot, I definitely enjoyed some parts of this book while others were a bit rougher for me for a few reasons. All in all though, I think it it’s a solid debut for Brown and in hearing that it’s a duology, I found myself looking into the second book’s release date with quite a bit of interest. Here’s why:
Overall, the idea of the book can be summed up in a few sentences. It follows the two main characters, the first of which is Karina who is both crown princess and sole heir to the throne of her city Ziran when she suddenly finds herself queen as her mother is assassinated. The second is Malik, a refugee travelling to Ziran with his sisters when he is suddenly trapped by a vengeful spirit and forced to either assassinate Karina or forfeit his little sister’s life.
As these two set along their destinies to cross paths—those of which are spelled out along the back of the book, so I promise I didn’t spoil anything—it is all written to the backdrop of a week-long festival called Solstasia that sets the colorful twist of events for the plot. Not only that, but it also becomes the ticking clock for what they both need to do.
If you like multiple point of views in a story, this book will work well for you because Brown alternates between her main characters from one chapter to the next. In many cases, I like this kind of story because it also really shows you who the characters are simply in the type of storytelling offered through their eyes. Brown worked this concept throughout the book and knowing in that Karina and Malik are two very different characters, there were some way it added to the narrative and a few where it took away.
In taking away from the narrative, I found myself struggling with the flow in in the beginning of the book because I didn’t have a great grasp on who our two mains were yet. With such different temperaments, switching from the first character’s point of view in one chapter to the next could be a bit jarring at times and the contrast really made this stand out. That being said, this this evolved into a strength that truly added to this narrative as the novel went on and I had a better grasp on who this story was about because the difference in Karina’s strong demeanor and stubborn headedness worked nicely against Malik’s inability to stick to his decision to kill the princess. They were very clearly established as two different people and that is one thing Brown’s storytelling made strengthen the more you got to know her main characters.
If you have a book where you have characters you know well enough to love and/or hate, the author is doing something right. Once you get to know these two, you might find that they fall into this category after all and I applaud Brown for her ability to complicate their stories; any book can get me with well-written main characters.
Without good main characters, all you have left are supporting characters and when it came to this book, I have to say that there were a few that I did became quite fond of. Though they were introduced slowly, it took me until much later to realize just how important a part some of those characters played– you’ve truly got to pay attention to some of them. Because ultimately, no matter how strong a main character is, I have found that they are not as strong as they can be without a good set of supporting characters backing them up. This book has several that allow for representation within the LGBTQ+ community or other minorities that I think people need to see more of… I just had one qualm.
I wanted more.
In some novels, supporting characters are more or less used as stepping stones to get the main characters from one place or one plot line to the next. Though I felt that a few of them fell into this category within this book, for the rest, I really just wanted to know more about who the more important supporting characters were and what their lives were like. With a limited point of view between two different main characters, we are only able to see what they see and feel what they feel at a distance; because of this, Brown wrote her characters and her narrative so well that I got attached to some of them and yet she held me as a reader at an arms’ length from knowing more about those supporting characters as well.
So while and while I did find a number of them endearing, I wanted to know more— I wanted more of who they were and I wanted more of their stories integrated into the overall plot or the heart of it all. As I mentioned, the beginning of this book focused on integrating the readers into the setting and getting them to know the main characters. After all, it is a fantasy book, so it’s important to aquaint the reader with the rules of the world and the setting before truly getting into the storyline. Once the setting was put in place though, the supporting characters began to show a whole lot more of themselves in the latter half of the book and it seems Brown gave this reader what she wanted.
Like a lot of people, I adore getting to fall into any fantasy world that I can get lost in for a while. As I got into it and started to get a bit more comfortable in understanding the city or the world’s rules, those side plots and supporting characters became much greater to enjoy. Let me tell you, though it takes a lot of thought to write fantasy and think through the rules, Brown set up a plot that holds some real magic– all puns intended– that gets more interesting the deeper you go into it.
For young adult readers, all in all I think this book is a good one to pick up— especially for young black readers who have been missing representation for far too long. As a fantasy novel, I think this was a good debut for Brown and with a few areas that I wanted more of or struggled with, it was a solid read. She set the scene and really found her rhythm after a while with steady writing for the most part; I think this book has a place on a lot of people’s shelves as a set up for an anticipated duology and I’m interested to see not only where this story goes for the next book, but also for the author. Call me a fan, but Brown seems to be one to keep an eye on.
If you’ve read this novel, I would love to hear what you think, and most importantly what you think of Karina. I was partially drawn to the book because I can’t say I’ve seen myself reflected in a book both in looks and in namesake before, so this one was a first for me. If you’re interested in the author and want to know more about Roseanne A. Brown, check out her website here (or purchase this book here) and keep an eye out for a sequel to this book coming in 2021. Otherwise, let me know what you’re reading these days and I hope you are all taking care of yourselves.
See you Friday.